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Outside Lands Podcast Episode 17: Hills of San Francisco

David and Woody review a 54-year-old book that inspired both of them.
Outside Lands San Francisco Podcast - May 2, 2013

Outside Lands Podcast Episode 17: Hills of San Francisco Outside Lands Podcast Episode 17: Hills of San Francisco

Podcast Transcription

WNP17 – Hills of San Francisco

Woody: [00:00:00] It's Outside Lands San Francisco, the podcast for the Western Neighborhoods Project. I'm Woody LaBounty.

David: And I'm David Gallagher.

Woody: David?

David: Yes, Woody.

Woody: We got some more mail.

David: We did? That's news to me.

Woody: But it's from our same friend, Paul Rosenberg.

David: Oh yeah, Paul Rosenberg.

Woody: He listened to our podcast about the Sunnyside Conservatory last week. And I think I might have called a streetcar driver a gripman instead of a motorman.

David: Wrong.

Woody: Yes. It's little things like that that Paul knows and corrects people about.

David: We should, thanks, Paul.

Woody: That's good though. We wanna get it right. We wanna know the real answer, so that's good. But this week we're not gonna talk about that. What are we gonna talk about this week? A little different, a little something special this week.

David: We are gonna talk about a publication that has [00:01:00] inspired both of us and others.

Woody: That's right. I saw in the Chronicle recently, I think, that this idea that we're gonna talk about, of reviewing certain parts of San Francisco, is being redone by John King in the Chronicle. So, it is still kind of living on. But what is it? This is kind of a book review too, right?

David: It is. It's a kind of a book review. It's a book called, The Hills of San Francisco. It's kind of a large paperback book, you know, about 12 by 15. It was published in 1959 by Chronicle Books.

Woody: Right.

David: And what it did was it compiled a series of articles that had run in the Chronicle around 1958 or 1959.

Woody: And the theme is, I mean, it's called Hills of San Francisco, but the theme is kind of like a little historical survey of the hills of San Francisco. Which people say, how many [00:02:00] hills are in San Francisco? Well, their Chronicle reporter, those reporters came back with 42.

David: So that is the correct answer, 42?

Woody: I don't know what they call a hill and what they don't, but that's a lot of hills. I mean, people know Russian Hill or Telegraph Hill, but 42. Wow.

David: Right. There's people who say Seven Hills of San Francisco, they are gravely misestimating. I hope Paul doesn't get me on that one.

Woody: I know. The grave misunderestimation.

David: Misunderestimation.


David: Misunderestimation.

Woody: Well, what I love about this and what I love about all kinds of relatively old but not super old history books that talk about history is you get the double whammy. They talk about history maybe back in the 1850s in this book. But you also kind of get the history of 1950s.

David: Right. Because they talk about how it was then.

Woody: Right. They say, oh, now Candlestick [00:03:00] Park is going to be built. You know, they say something like that.

David: Right.

Woody: And you're like, oh wow. Candlestick Park, you know, when it was new and exciting and modern and now it's an old decrepit stadium. They're gonna, they wanna tear down. You know?

David: Yeah.

Woody: So, I like that. I like that double history.

David: Yeah. It's neat. Woody, when did you first find out about this book?

Woody: I think I found it in a used bookstore in the 1980s and I had a copy. And at the that time, I was not as interested in history as I am today, but I got it cause I thought it was neat. I really liked the back. It had this sort of cartoon map and it had every hill with a, you know, a red triangle with a number. And so, I felt educational to me. I felt like I could put this on my shelf. And if somebody said, where's Mount Davidson? I could say, oh, hold on. I'll pull out this cartoon map and show you.

David: Yeah, exactly. I think I had a similar experience to you. And I have always loved pictures and this book is chock full of pictures. [00:04:00] All dating from around 1958, which are pretty cool.

Woody: Yeah. Because the streets, some of them look exactly the same. Like here's a shot of Anza Vista Hill near the Kaiser building there near Masonic. And it looks pretty much the same except all the cars are from 1958 or something.

David: Yeah.

Woody: But then other shots, you'll look and it'll seem totally different. And what I really like…

David: One…

Woody: Yeah, go ahead.

David: Yeah. One that I like is right on the front, is one of the first ones, Rincon Hill, and it's a shot from Rincon Hill. Rincon Hill, of course, it peaks at about 2nd and Harrison, or 2nd and…

Woody: I think it was where the Bay Bridge…

David: Yeah.

Woody: Hits ground on San Francisco, essentially.

David: Right. And so, this is a shot looking north and you can see a wide landscape with all the skyscrapers, many of which are obscured by today's skyscrapers. And then the, you can see the Embarcadero Freeway running [00:05:00] across the front of it, and it stops just before it hits the Embarcadero.

Woody: Right. Right.

David: TransBay Terminal is there. It's a very cool picture.

Woody: Yeah. I also think, and they have old pictures too. They'll have old historical photos in here. So, they'll show like a picture of, this is a shot looking across the Castro essentially. And, you know, it's all open field with some Victorians and the road just kind of ends in the middle of countryside. And so that kind of stuff was really neat. And we should say also, we should mention all the little clip art. There's little sort of, I mean, clip art is what we kind of call it, I guess they called it then too. But there's lots of little, whoever designed the book, used a lot of old sort of 1800s looking clip art or had a cartoonist draw little Victorian women with parasols or men with big mustaches.

David: Right.

Woody: Kind of adds some charm to the whole layout too. I think what's great about this book, I mean we're talking about, we're reviewing this book. It's not like you can go out and buy it. I mean, you probably can, there's billions of [00:06:00] copies.

David: We have a few copies ourself.

Woody: We have three in the office here. So, maybe in a used bookstore. But I think it’s, what's nice about it is, there were all these short articles. So, in a book form, it's very easily digestible. You know, you pick it up and you just, I'm just gonna read about Mountain Davidson today. Or I'm gonna read about the good-natured gardeners of Anza Vista, which I talked about. And I have to say, the reporters, some of them had hard history stories and some of them were like, eh, we don't know what to say about Potrero Hill. There's a lot of Russian people living there.

David: Well, I know that when I got this book, I was in college. And instead of going to class, I would go through the book and go and visit the different hills.

Woody: And you graduated somehow.

David: And I did graduate. That's right.

Woody: Maybe it helped your history class grade.

David: Could be. Could be.

Woody: So, you actually wandered around. I mean, this is your copy I have here. [00:07:00]

David: Yeah.

Woody: And I keep finding interleaved little old pictures you had taken in the ‘80s of the same spot, like here is…

David: 20th and Noe.

Woody: Yeah, 20th and Noe. And so, you took a picture in 1986 and tucked the print here in the chapter about that.

David: Yeah. I tried to replicate the picture that they had. In the book, there's one from 1920 or something and one from 1959. And then I tried to make another one of 1986. But the hillside there is covered with trees now and you can't quite get the same angle. But I was inspired. Yeah. I mean, I discovered one of my favorite places in San Francisco from that book. Yeah.

Woody: Which was?

David: That is Mount Olympus.

Woody: Mount Olympus? That sounds like something out of the Pella. Pellapella, the Greek area.

David: Yes. Maybe Paul can help you with that.

Woody: The Pella, Pella, what is that archipelago?

David: Peloponnese.

Woody: Peloponnese. Oh boy. We blew that one, I'm sure.

David: No, that's right.

Woody: But you're [00:08:00] saying it's in San Francisco?

David: It is in San Francisco. It's the geographic center of San Francisco.

Woody: Really?

David: Yeah. Well, it's close.

Woody: Okay.

David: It's the hill at the geographic center.

Woody: So, I'm a young hip San Franciscan, and I don't know the city that well. But where would I go? How, what neighborhoods, what hip, modern neighborhoods is Mount Olympus near?

David: Well, it's kind of near the Haight Ashbury.

Woody: Okay.

David: And kind of near the Castro.

Woody: I’ve heard of that.

David: And kind of near Cole Valley.

Woody: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah.

David: Kind of near Noe Valley.

Woody: Noe, okay.

David: Well, it's over the hill from Noe Valley. Anyway…

Woody: Right.

David: Mount Olympus is right above the corner of 17th and Clayton.

Woody: Right.

David: And now there's a big building there and you can't quite see Mount Olympus. But there are stairs going up from 17th Street. And if you follow them up, and you'll get up onto Upper Terrace and that leads you to the top where there's a circle street. And in the middle, there's a [00:09:00] great obelisk.

Woody: Or a pedestal, I think of it more.

David: Okay. It's a pedestal.

Woody: Okay. Because it had something on top of it. But now it doesn't, right?

David: Right. There's a little park in the middle of this circle at the top. And now it's completely surrounded by trees and buildings, and you don't get very much of a view. But at one time, this hill was very evident…

Woody: Right.

David: To the surrounding hills. There were no buildings. There were no trees growing up. And, and in 1887…

Woody: Yep. Thanksgiving Day.

David: Thanksgiving Day, Adolph Sutro dedicated a monument on top of this hill and the pedestal is still there. The statue that sat on the pedestal was kind of an imagining of Liberty, right?

Woody: It kind of is like the Statue of Liberty in a sense. It's got, it's holding up a big lamp, right?

David: Right. It was called Triumph of Light, and it is Liberty [00:10:00] vanquishing the darkness below, which looks kinda like a devil or something.

Woody: Darn devil.

David: The dark devil with a yucky, scary wing.

Woody: Thank goodness for Liberty. But it wasn't a very well-made statue, I guess. It's sort of like the Sutro Heights statues.

David: No, and if you read the book, it says, it talks about the statue there and talks about how it was kind of a nuisance to the shipping sailors and stuff.

Woody: Like, what is that like? Because wasn't, did it have a light? It was actually lit up? Is that what it was?

David: I think it might have been.

Woody: Wow. Yeah, it says irate sailors of the day found that her light threw them off their course as they maneuvered their ships through the Golden Gate. And a lot of these things in here, I gotta say, some of them are folklore-ish and some of them are real, and some of them are true. Like the statue was definitely erected. Whether sailors were actually irritated by it, I don't know. The statue did eventually erode and kind of crumble to nothing, right?

David: I think it was torn down just before this book. It mentions that.

Woody: No way. It lasted that [00:11:00] long?

David: Yeah.

Woody: Four years ago, the city decided to take it down as disreputable and a hazard to boot. So yeah, in mid-‘50s.

David: Right. And so, now if you go up there, it's just kind of, I think the neighbors maintain the plants a little bit. But it's just a really nice, kind of quiet out of the way place right in the geographic center of San Francisco.

Woody: Neat. Well, I think the other thing that I liked when I got the book and I started like doing a little bit of what you did. I didn't actually go around to every site and every hill and try to, to look at the views like you did. But one of the things that really kind of caught my fancy, because I didn't even notice it, I think that's what's funny about it, is Merced Heights, which in here they call it, the chapter is A Ridge Overlooked by History.

David: Right.

Woody: And this is a ridge line just south of Ocean Avenue between City College and San Francisco State. And I had gone up and down Ocean [00:12:00] Avenue. I had gone up and down Junipero Serra and 19th Avenue. I don't, I'd never even noticed this hill line, this little ridge line here, of these three hills. So, when I got the book and it's talking about how it used to have all these poppies at the top and this crazy rocky outcrop. This, like, it's actually called, I think, Rocky Outcrop now.

David: It's still there.

Woody: Yeah. At the top of Orizaba, the granite peak here. And I said, this looks like some, I don't know, it looks like some crazy earthquake or volcano rubble or something. So, I went to go check it out. So, like you, I went and was inspired to go look at and climbed up to the top and learned all about Merced Heights, which I didn't even know that part of town existed. And it was called Pansy Hill because of all the wildflowers. Kind of neat. I think the other thing the reporters did a good job of is they'd go visit these places and they'd kind of talk to neighbors or people that were passing. And so, you get a little local color I guess is what you might say from 1959. Yeah. So, we're basically just giving a good book re review for a [00:13:00] book that was published 63 years ago. Is that right?

David: 60?

Woody: 40. 50, 53 years ago?

David: Yeah.

Woody: Math is not my strong suit. Is that what it is? We're giving it a good review?

David: Yeah.

Woody: It is, it's like a time capsule. But it's like a, like I said, I love the double time capsule of, I get to look at 1959 and see what the world was like then here.

David: Right.

Woody: And then I get to hear what they thought of the past.

David: Here's a, for instance, here's a picture of an architect's model of what Red Rock Hill, one of the three hills of Diamond Heights, will look like when Diamond Heights is built. Because at this point, Diamond Heights isn't even there.

Woody: Right. They, like I said, there was a little model of Candlestick Park in here too, because it was, here it is, architects’ scale model for the new baseball stadium at Bayview Heights. So, they had, they didn't actually come up with the Candlestick name yet. I also, like, this is the other thing I found out [00:14:00] about the cemeteries. Because they had this one, the view from Lincoln Heights. And it shows this woman in the 1950s golfing near an old crypt. You know, at the cemeteries that were up there near Lincoln Heights, near the Legion of Honor.

David: Right.

Woody: So again, I didn't know about the cemeteries. I didn't know they got moved and they were replaced with housing. I probably first learned about it in this book. So…

David: Yeah.

Woody: Neat.

David: It's a great book.

Woody: Yeah. Go out and get it. It's usually pretty cheap too. I mean, it was a $1.50 when it was published back in 1959.

David: It's really one of the treasures of our library here at the Western Neighborhoods Project.

Woody: Yeah, we have three copies. We have a triple treasure. Hey David, I wanna mention to you, I don't know if you know this, but on Tuesday, May 14th

David: It's coming up.

Woody: Which is coming up. We're going to have a movie night at the Balboa Theater.

David: Movie night?

Woody: Yeah. Like 38th Avenue in Balboa, in the Outer Richmond.

David: Really?

Woody: Yep. We're calling the program [00:15:00] Secret San Francisco, Adventures in History.

David: Ooh.

Woody: I only hope the audience is as responsive as you are right now. But you know about this, it's almost done. Our film has kind of all come together. What are we gonna show?

David: Yeah. Oh, we're gonna show a lot of different clips of historical films that you have never seen before.

Woody: I've seen 'em.

David: All right. Some people have never seen before.

Woody: Yeah. So that's part of the secret.

David: It's gonna be a mixture of old and new. We're gonna put in a couple of our history minutes even.

Woody: Right. In which we kind of share secrets or share little tidbits.

David: And we're going to be, and we are gonna be gabbing right over the film, aren't we?

Woody: Well…

David: We're the hosts.

Woody: Yes. We will be participating with the film. And our friend Katherine Petrin from the San Francisco Neighborhood Theater Foundation will also be a co-host.

David: Aah. So, the three of us will [00:16:00] add our voice to the film.

Woody: Yeah. Chime in when it's appropriate. You know, kind of explain what people are seeing, cause it's not all edited, narrated footage. A lot of this is very raw soundless stuff, but very neat.

David: So, doing what we're doing now?

Woody: Yeah. But for 70 minutes.

David: Wow. So, if you like our podcast, come to see movie night.

Woody: Yeah.

David: And get the visual experience.

Woody: The tickets are $10 each and they're on, they're for sale right now. They're on our website. I think it's on the front page. And I'd buy your ticket if, you know, you could because it might sell out.

David: Yep. It might.

Woody: I think it might.

David: I think it will sell out, actually.

Woody: All right. David says it will sell out, so buy your ticket.

David: Paul will let us know whether it's sold out or not.

Woody: So that's it this week. Make sure you come to our movie night and if you find The Hills of San Francisco, we recommend you buy it.

David: Absolutely. Yeah. We can never have too many copies.

Woody: Thanks. And if you have any questions or corrections [00:17:00] about this podcast, please email us and contact us. You can go to outsidelands.org to do that. And we have a new podcast page, I believe, up now, David.

David: That's right. You don't have to subscribe to the podcast via iTunes if you don't wish to. You can go to our website, outsidelands.org, and listen to it right there.

Woody: Yeah, we have a podcast page, so we're getting better at this stuff. Anyway, if you have any questions, give us a, drop us a line. And we hope to see you at the Balboa. But for now, it's the Outside Lands San Francisco podcast. I'm Woody LaBounty.

David: And I'm David Gallagher.

Woody: Farewell.

Learn more about the Western Neighborhoods Project and more about San Francisco history at outsidelands.org.

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